Many athletes and people with desk jobs alike suffer from extra tight hips and hamstrings. The solution? Yoga all the way!
Why do our hips get tight?
If you spend your day sitting at a desk, sitting at a workbench, driving, or sitting on a sofa, chances are your hips are tight. Ironically, if you’re a runner, weightlifter or Crossfitter, they can be even tighter.
When you’re sitting, the muscles and tendons around the hips are stuck in one position. That means that some are shortened – hip flexors and inner thigh muscles (adductors) – and others are relaxed but getting no stimulation so it weakens them – glutes. Sitting can also contribute to IT band tightness – that long stretch of fascia and tendons running all over your outer hips and thighs. The problem isn’t sitting as such, it’s sitting for long periods of time when the muscles and tendons spend hours in the same state.
Make sure to include some breaks in your working day when you can stretch and move a little – try our brand new ‘Daily Mobility Break‘ to get on the right track!
Athletes also often experience this tightness but for different reasons. All the muscles around the hips and thighs provide both strength and stability. In many sports, such as running, bodybuilding or Crossfit, we rely on those muscles to provide support, propel us and stabilize both hips and knees. They end up being strong but also shortened if we don’t stretch them properly and enough.
Lastly, stress can also contribute – holding tension in the muscles surrounding the hips is not uncommon. After all, stress makes us ready for action so you may be subconsciously stress-tensing your glutes or quads!
Generally speaking, tight hips mean that ‘something’ around your hips limits your range of motion, makes it difficult or impossible to perform some movements, or causes non-specific pain.
That ’something’ may be tight hip flexors (muscles that pull your thigh up) or IT band. Try doing a lunge and go deep, until your back knee touches the ground, then straighten your back so it’s vertical – do you feel the front of your hip stretching? You should feel a gentle stretch but if it feels like someone’s ripping your leg off, your hip flexors are too tight.
For the IT band, any kind of twisting positions where your torso is turning in the opposite direction to your legs is great. If you feel a nice stretching sensation, you’re fine but if it feels like you have a spiky rope running across your outer hip and thigh, your IT band needs more attention.
Hip tightness can also be caused by weak glutes (hip abductors) and/or inner thighs (hip adductors) – this disbalance makes your other muscles work overtime and can make your back hurt.
In all these cases, Yoga is a great help. All the lunges, bends and twists relieve muscle and tendon tightness over time, while other poses, such as bridge and reversed tabletop, awaken the glutes. The mindfulness aspect of Yoga also helps to relieve tension and makes your muscles more relaxed afterwards. Try our dedicated Hip mobility practice!
Sometimes, what feels like tight hips may be just a joint shape limitation. For example if you have trouble squatting, try widening your stance. That’ll give your thigh bone more room for movement in the hip joint.
Why do hamstrings get tight so easily?
Hamstrings are the muscles at the back of your thighs that move your leg backwards, extend the hip and flex the knee. Just like hips, they are also often tight in athletes, and people with desk jobs. Sitting shortens them while most athletic activities both strengthen and shorten them – just think about how many times your knee flexes whether you’re walking, lifting weights or playing basketball, and how much weight your hamstrings have to hold to keep your legs stable when you land on one foot doing just about any kind of sport!
Tight hamstrings are limiting in many ways – they can shorten your stride, make your movement patterns less efficient, contribute to back pain, and make you unable to bend forward properly.
Yoga targets hamstrings in countless ways, and so is an excellent tool for regular hamstring-release and lengthening. Try this leg-focused Skill Yoga practice to see how great your hamstrings and hips can feel!
Do’s and don’ts of Yoga for tight hips and hamstrings
When you’re experiencing tightness in these large muscle groups, you need patience and consistency. Patience because you won’t see instant miracles but practice after practice, you’ll experience noticeable improvements. And consistency because to achieve those improvements, you need to work on those muscles on a regular basis – ideally three times a week.
For hip tightness, it’s best to follow one of our guided videos and when you feel like a certain position is ‘just what you need’, pause the video and stay there, breathing into the tight spot for at least 10 breaths.
For hamstrings, a plain old downward dog is a great start – put your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees, tilt your pelvis up, push your fingers into the floor, slowly pedal your feet, and then settle in the final pose. Getting your heels to the floor is absolutely NOT the point of downward dog! The point is to have the correct alignment so you feel your hamstrings and torso stretching, creating more space in those areas.
In general, forward folds with legs together, slightly apart, or just one foot forward are great for hamstring lengthening. When you cannot quite get there, use blocks or straps to keep the correct alignment.
We can do a lot to increase our hip and hamstring flexibility and mobility, and prevent or treat pain associated with tightness in those areas. Hips and thighs need to move in all directions – flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation. A well-rounded Yoga practice includes all of them. Whether you sit a lot or train in a manner that favours mostly flexion and extension of the hip, such as cycling or running, complementing it with hip and hamstring targeted Yoga practice will not just make you feel good, it will increase your range of motion, prevent repetitive strain injuries and may resolve some annoying aches and pains!